Give a man a Casio keyboard and you'd expect it to go one of two ways; like Ross' disastrous music-making attempts in Friends or a stoic, awkward performance by a lone individual stood in the middle of a stage. Luckily, Norwegian quartet Casiokids are here to prove otherwise with their lively electro-pop. Chantelle Pattemore met up with members Fredrik, Omar and Kjetil as they brought their UK tour to a close to discuss working with Of Montreal, a love of Craig David and working with cassettes.
Where did you guys meet and how did you decide to form the band?
Fredrik: Me and Kjetil met in high school and started making music together when we were living in a small town south of Bergen. Eventually, we both moved to Bergen to study and continue working with music and that's where we met Omar and also some of the other guys that we play with now. Me and Kjetil dabbled a bit with making electronic music; at the time we were really playing in more of a rock band.
Kjetil: We have a friend, called Ben and he had this habit of making up his own melodies and singing loudly in the streets while we were cycling around. The things he came up with whilst cycling around were the basis for some of our first melodies. And of course we used the Casios from the beginning, borrowing them from friends and never giving them back.
F: Starting off we were an instrumental band. When we started playing live in Bergen in 2004-2005, we were basically just jamming and making up song names for the setlist every day. Gradually, we started singing and there became more of a structure to the songs.
Why did you decide to start including lyrics in your songs and not just stay as an instrumental band?
K: I think it just came from trying it out for a while. Me and Fredrik had been singing in other bands before so it was natural that at some point we wanted to try it out. The second album, or set of songs that we did, we started to experiment with that and we found it natural to sing in Norwegian.
F: It was the natural process, I guess, of the band going from just an experimental side project of ours to a main project.
There are a few bands that have come out of Norway that have made a name for themselves, more recently acts like Royksopp and Harry's Gym. What do you think distinguishes Casiokids from them?
Omar: We sing in Norwegian.
F: Yeah, that's the main one, I guess. There's also a lot of similarities. Both bands you mentioned use a lot of electronic beats and we actually have a studio back in Bergen and Royksopp have a studio next door. So we're neighbours! Royksopp have probably been the biggest influence on us when it comes to Norwegian bands.
K: In addition to playing our songs in club settings, we use our songs in a lot of workshops and theatre plays and dance performances. We've done a lot of projects that are outside the usual sort of band's fare. But it's still based on what we do in the studio.
O: I guess, compared to Royksopp, the difference is that it's two guys, being in an electronic band. One of the things that we wanted to do was not get trapped just playing around with our laptops. Not that Royksopp just do that, but we wanted to be something more. I'd say we are more of a pop band playing electronic music.
You say that Royksopp are one of your biggest Norwegian influences but who else influences you?
F: Loads of people. That's a question that's always going to have a different answer depending on which person in the band you ask. But I think we grew up listening to a lot of UK bands, like Radiohead and Blur and New Order. Also, a lot of Swedish bands, in particular one called Bob Hund who are.
F: Yeah, the world's best Scandinavian band! They're not as known abroad, sadly. Ketil, our percussionist, used to have a radio show in Bergen doing World music, a lot of African music, so that is also a big influence on our sound.
I'm introducing your music to a friend. What should I say to best describe you?
K: We've found ourselves being categorised in the electronic section of the record shop, but once in France I saw we were in the World section, and once after a show we did at a coastal town in Norway, a guy said we sounded gay! (Laughs)
O: I guess that person must generally listen to Metallica, or whatever!
K: I think he meant the old-fashioned meaning of the word gay.
F: Yes, joyful! I think we're all about the 'happy melancholia'. That's a nice way of describing it. It's basically quirky pop music.
Tell me about your first ever gig.
K: It was at a place called Landmark in Bergen. Ever since that first gig we've collaborated with a designer called Blank Blank who has done all our record sleeves. And on that first show he compiled a video of safari footage and mixed it up a little bit.
F: We had a member in the live band at the start and he played the bongos. But he quit. He was too scared of being on stage!
K: In the beginning we made all the tracks at home and we didn't really know what to do on stage. So we compiled this visual thing that Blank Blank did and played the songs off our iTunes and played some stuff on top of that, like we were actually playing!
F: The inexperience of it all came out on the second song when Kjetil, during this breakdown, was getting everyone to clap along, but the beats were so low that he was clapping all out of tune and out of time so it just became this mess.
K: We've tried a lot of things since then, of how to perform our songs.
Your gigs have earned the reputation of being full of energy and a lot of fun. What do you aim to achieve and give your audiences with the live performances?
F: I think it's similar to what Omar said earlier; we've always been about trying to create visuals to support our music and not just be these guys standing behind a laptop. We've tried to include more organic elements to it and the cheerfulness and the joy of playing just comes naturally. I think it's more of the vibe of the songs are really joyful.
O: We wouldn't mind people dancing either and they often do.
What song of yours off the new album do you like most and why?
K: The album has been done over such a long time that I re-discover tracks when people do remixes. One of my favourite musicians, Jimi Tenor, he did a version of the orchestral opening track of the album which you can listen to on our Soundcloud page. That made me really appreciate that song even more.
F: My favourite now is the closer, the ballad. It's our first attempt at a ballad really and I think it works really well. It was made pretty quickly in the studio and it gives us the freedom to spend a lot of time in there and experiment with the songs. That can result in a lot of different outcomes, depending on the song. Sometimes we finish the song in one day, and some other songs we can spend eight months finishing.
O: One of my favourites is Selskapets Triste Avslutning which means 'The Sad Ending of the Party'. With that song, something was made with me and Fredrik in the studio way back, and then half a year later you (Kjetil) picked up the tracks we had put on and rediscovered it. He made some melodies from there.
K: It's a common thing that can happen in the studio. Some of us are in the studio doing something and forget to tell the others about it. So I'll be browsing through something that's just saved on the computer and stumble across it.
F: I love that about having your own studio. Being there and feeling creative and just going through all the stuff you haven't been involved in making. Loads of ideas and sketches for songs, there are hundreds of them. Picking up something that was made a year ago and breathing fresh air into it.
K: It makes me think about the Swedish band we mentioned earlier, Bob Hund. They have in their studio, or at least they used to, a box of ideas recorded on cassette and at times when they didn't have a chorus to a song, or an ending to a song, they randomly picked out a cassette and listened to that idea and then added that part to the other song. That's something we try to do sometimes as well. You can be really lucky with that way of working.
O: I guess it's a bit like that with that particular song we were talking about [Selskapets Triste Avslutning]. It was actually the last song we finished.
F: We finished it only a week before we sent off the finished album to our record label. Of Montreal were in town, in Bergen, and they spent a couple of days in the studio with us. Their violinist, K Ishibashi, he put some great violin on that track and also their guitarist Bryan contributed and (lead singer) Kevin Barnes, which was a lot of fun.
A couple of years ago, you were one of four bands awarded a million kroner each by a-ha. Can you tell me more about this?
F: Yeah, it was an amazing thing to do by a-ha, who are by far the most famous band to come out of Norway. They were having this farewell tour and they decided to hand out one million kroner to four different bands each.
K: From different regions of Norway.
F: It was amazing for us that they wanted to give the money to us.
K: It's basically a grant given to us to support our career outside of Norway. We spent a lot of the money on touring abroad and recording the album and also to build our own studio.
Especially with the release of the latest album you're getting to tour a lot more worldwide. How do you feel the reaction to your music differs as you travel across the globe?
F: It's surprisingly similar wherever we go. Something immediate about the vibe I think. People always end up dancing by the end of the set and a lot of people sing a long, even though they don't understand the lyrics. They'll sing along in Norwegian-gibberish!
K: There have been some extreme examples of that! People often sing along to instrumental parts as well.
F: Especially in the UK, with Fot I Hose, which is probably the most known of our songs over here, people will go 'maaah maaaa!' (to the Fot I Hose tune)! So it's pretty weird!
What's next for you guys after this UK tour and some more album promo?
F: We go back home, do some more recording. We like to constantly record. We have a lot of ideas that didn't make the record that we want to work on. We'd like to hopefully release an EP or something before the end of the year.
K: Then there's more touring; it's a bit early to announce festival dates but there definitely will be some festivals in the UK and we're also playing in Germany, France and Belgium.
F: We're coming back to the UK in April.
K: If you have an iPhone you can download our app.
You have an app?!
K: Yeah! It's free and you can stay updated on shows and download ringtones and follow our blog.
Reveal a musical guilty pleasure.
K: Craig David.
O: That's not a guilty pleasure.
F: It is for me!
K: 'Can You Fill Me In' by Craig David. Do you know the song 'Bootyman' by Craig David? (All laughing)
K: The album is actually ten years old and I didn't like it when it came out but now I think it's catchy and it's got some easy beats! And then an English band called Imagination, they're from the 70s/80s.
F: Omar? I think you must have some dark, guilty pleasures!
O: It depends if you can call it a guilty pleasure! Early Genesis.
F: I don't think early Genesis would be a guilty pleasure but late Genesis.
O: Phil Collins, then.
K: When we work in the studio we often have this discussion of trying to make something that's extremely cheesy as that's when you can find the good stuff. When you search musically the borders of something that's revolting!
F: That's the recipe for success! (Laughs)
If you could have written the soundtrack to any film, which would it have been?
O: Oooh, that's a tough one.
F: The first film that came to mind was 2001: A Space Odyssey. Kubrick films in general. there's not a lot of dialogue so you could paint it a lot with the sounds.
K: But then that film is so good as well because of the music.
F: It's difficult to find movies that have horrible soundtracks that are still good.
K: It would be fun to do the soundtrack to something like Metropolis, one of the silent movies.
O: I can't think of anything where the film is good but the music is horrible. Often the music in the film, makes the film. If it doesn't sound right then it's not a good movie.
Finally, name a song each that you wish you'd written.
O: Solsbury Hill, by Peter Gabriel, I like that song.
K: This Must Be The Place by Talking Heads.
Not Craig David?
F: I'll have to have a look (pulls out iPod). Stay On These Roads by a-ha.